Dr. Tony Kireopoulos
In the Orthodox Christian tradition, when a person dies we say, “May her memory be eternal!” This saying is similar to that in the Jewish tradition, “May his memory be a blessing!”
As we continue to count the toll that Covid-19 has taken throughout the world, as of this week we have committed just over 3 million people to God’s eternal memory. As we count the toll that racism and gun violence keep taking on our communities, we find ourselves praying again and again that the memory of those taken from us will be a blessing to the loved ones who remain to mourn their killing. And with the announcement several days ago that the United States will be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, we remember the 2,352 soldiers whose lives were lost in America’s longest war.
The war in Afghanistan started 20 years ago, after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 that claimed 2,977 lives, and we embarked on a mission to hold those responsible to account. We have long committed the victims of 9/11 to God’s remembrance. And through the seasons that have come and gone since that fateful day, we have been blessed by the memory of the soldiers who died in the Afghan – and Iraqi – deserts. (The war in Iraq, partly justified by questionable evidence of a link to the same terrorists, started 2 years later, resulting in 4,431 US casualties. Although that war ended in 2011, US troops have remained there to deter terrorist and foreign aggression, and since then have suffered 74 casualties.)
It is long past the time to end this war. Yes, there will be those who will wonder what, beyond the definitive defeat 10 years ago of the terrorist network responsible for 9/11, was achieved in such a long war. There will be those who predict that any gains will quickly be lost once the withdrawal is complete. Still others will worry about the civilians we leave behind. Yet others will struggle to put their trust in the military, diplomatic, economic, and other soft power we can exert from afar. But the truth remains: it is right to end this war, and to bring our troops home, so that no more men and women will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.
We, the living, remember the sacrifices of the fallen. We are indeed blessed by their memory. And as we get set to welcome home their fellow soldiers, we entrust them, as well as the countless civilians who also lost their lives, to the eternal memory of God.
Dr. Kireopoulos is Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA.
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